Scene Breakdown: Mr. Thornton and Margaret’s Kiss in ‘North and South’

Still of the North & South kiss.

One of the most beloved period dramas adapted by the BBC, the success of North and South continues to capture the hearts of modern audiences. With its well-written characters to the eye-catching visuals, it’s not just a story about the cotton mill industry. The series unfolds the love story between cotton mill owner John Thornton and southerner Margaret Hale, whose family have uprooted to the north. The buildup of their romance is a stunning but complex story that is littered with many misunderstandings, but they ultimately find each other on the same page at the end. 

After multiple events change both characters’ circumstances, Mr. Thornton and Margaret eventually come across each other at a train platform at the very end. Unbeknownst to one other, they had both traveled to seek out the other–Mr. Thornton to Helston, Margaret’s former home in the country, and Margaret back to Milton. Both are surprised but happy to see each other and finally admit their mutual feelings and share a kiss on the train platform before departing on a train back to Milton together. It’s a simple scene, but it renders powerfully due to its long-awaited buildup. 

One reason why Mr. Thornton and Margaret’s kiss resonates with its audience is due to the lack of dialogue. Throughout the series, both Mr. Thornton and Margaret have not been shy with their opinions of one another. Initially, Margaret has dislike for the cotton mill owner, viewing him as authoritative and having intense dislike for his working methods while Mr. Thornton thinks lowly of her reputation. Even if they could avoid it, they’d rather get into a loud verbal sparring match than to remain silent. But when they lay eyes on each other at the end in the train station, the amount of dialogue has shifted. Not only are the words few, they are soft spoken. They are both looking at one another, trying to get as much of one another as they can, indulging as if the other could possibly vanish in an instant. Both are in disbelief to see the other, but there’s a joy in pulsating within. 

However, there are some visible differences between the two. While both appear to be delighted to run into each other, Thornton is the more relaxed of the two, despite just closing down his mill after financial struggles. Gone is his tense presence and its accompanying frown, along with his stuffy attire. In contrast, Margaret has inherited her godfather’s fortune, and she’s now dressed the part as a wealthy woman. As they approach each other, Thornton seems the most comfortable of the two. At this moment, he is the one between them that has already been open and bare about his love and feelings for Margaret. He’s lost his mill, his job, his fortune–there’s nothing more to lose. Meanwhile, Margaret seems shy and flustered and struggles with her words. She’s realized that she’s in love with the man she’s already denied, but she’s not explicitly told him. Where she once easily spoke her mind with such command at language, she is now unsure of her words. 

Luckily, when it comes to these two, they act on their feelings, especially on occasions when social conventions should be a forethought. After fumbling through the business proposition she has for Thornton, she pauses and finally acts by grabbing his hand and pressing a kiss. From this point on, social propriety be damned. They demonstrate some public affection as Mr. Thornton and Margaret kiss while sitting on the platform bench, breaking apart only for Margaret to collect her bags and go home to Milton with him. It’s a very intimate moment for the two as they unload everything that’s been unsaid into the kiss. It’s an understanding that despite whatever has been said, has been criticized, has caused hurt, and what has been gained is something they both cherish and hold deeply together. 

The series ends with the two of them riding off in the train together. It’s only fitting that this entire scene takes place at the train platform. The train station signifies significant turning points in Margaret’s life. The opening shot of the series is of the train that Margaret and her family ride to Milton. This is the moment she leaves her identity and lifestyle as a southerner. The second time we see the train station is when she helps her brother, Frederick, escape back to Spain. As she embraces her brother in the middle of the night, they are seen by Mr. Thornton. Because he’s not fully aware of her brother’s situation, Mr. Thornton believes that Frederick is her lover. Since Margaret cannot reveal the truth to Thornton, she wrestles with the thought that Mr. Thornton thinks badly of her, and she realizes that she doesn’t dislike him as she thought she did. And finally, we have the kiss on the platform, signifying Margaret’s love for Thornton and the new chapter in her life with him. 

You can catch North and South streaming on Britbox.


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